Expensive

Expensive is, simply put, just me, Garageband, and a microphone.

I think at this point, almost everyone on earth probably has, or has had, a hip hop moniker (as opposed to your “government name”). The genre has penetrated so deep into the culture that years ago it became distinctly normal – if cringe-inducing – to hear TV newscasters and Marge Simpson alike say things like “bling-bling” and “off the hook.”

I am, sadly, no different. Although I’m a middle-class, relatively polite and economically comfortable white person from the suburbs, I too am obsessed with the potentiality and power of hip hop. Over the years, this brimmed over into occasional freestyle sessions with friends, and near-constant freestyle sessions by myself in the shower (which hopefully are quiet enough that my wife doesn’t have to endure them), and the making of beats over which to put said rhymes.

The name itself has changed: at first, I went by SkinnyFat, a name that fits my physical shape to a T (or maybe more accurately, to a “b”) – it was coined by my friend Seth, when he was watching me ineffectually attempt to talk to girls at a party and noticed how much bigger my belly was than the rest of me. I briefly flirted with calling myself Heineken Skywalker, because I thought it was funny, but finally settled on Expensive, because I think it’s even funnier.

Just to be clear, I am not very Expensive. You could have me for a song. I also realized I could adjust the name to “Ex-to-the-Pensive,” which is a pretty accurate accounting of how I’ve felt about making my hip hop ambitions known up to this point: pensive in the extreme. But I’m not hiding it any longer: I want to make a great hip hop record. Two, actually – Expensive is one-third of Broke, the other rap act on the slate for FiveFourEleven.

As for the style and content of the Expensive record, I don’t know where I’ll land. But I do know this: I want it to be fun. I make enough sad music in other genres. If I possibly can, I’d love to put out a party record. It’s a celebration, bitches! Can I do it? We’ll find out together.

Das Piumas

Das Piumas is me on guitar and lead vocals, Joseph JP Polsoni on bass guitar and back-ups, and Allan Tiger-Paw Lewis on drums and back-ups. We formed probably six or so years ago, but the groundwork was laid even further back when we had the extreme good fortune to go to the same arts high school – read: a place where our eccentricities were praised rather than mocked, and where we would discover a shared love of drinking, driving around the suburbs (not while drunk, of course), and avoiding work.

So the three of us became best friends in high school, and stayed that way. When we started playing music together, it was such a natural and easy partnership because we’d already seen one another at our most embarrassing. This removed the problems of discomfort and fear of failure, and made playing together one of the most fun things it was possible to do.

Our sound took a while to cohere, partly because we chose an odd configuration of players. Allan is one of the most talented singer/guitarist/songwriters I know of (once again, check out Van der Saar here – thank me later), and so of course we put him on drums, JP is an absolutely face-melting guitarist, so he got a bass, and I couldn’t play anything much or sing properly, so, you know, frontman.

As we each learned how to fulfill our given roles, the band gained a voice, and I think the fact that we were slightly out of our comfort zone helped to create that sound. I’ve labelled us “post-punk” for convenience, but there’s all sorts of stuff going on there. Just like our name, we’re somewhat inscrutable.

The name itself came from on high. I was sitting at a bar with JP one night, and he announced that we were called Das Pumas. I thought about it a lot, and decided there might be an “i” in this team. There is now. We don’t know what it means, but we know that it’s right.

Today, JP is teaching surfing in the Dominican Republic – let’s have a moment of silence to feel bad for him – so Das Piumas is on hiatus, but just as the three of us will always be best friends, I’d like to think the band will always exist. While we were all living in the same place, we wrote enough music for an album. I’m going to try and make that album. We’ll see.

Paris Hotel Wars

When I was doing my undergraduate studies (English Literature – what else?), I realized that all you technically had to do to be “in a band” was to invent a band and say you’re in it. I was talking to my friends Chris and Sarah one day early in the school year, when there was an open air pub on campus, and we decided we would start an artist’s collective that would include a band (did I mention…English Literature students? ‘Nuff said).

Predictably, that didn’t lead anywhere. We tried to write a novel together, which consisted of three disjointed pages of nothing happening, and we never actually managed to get together and make music – although I’ve done a few things separately with each of them. But the name remained: Paris Hotel Wars.

Now I’m going to tell you something that almost no one knows, because absolutely no one cares very much. The name Paris Hotel Wars comes, wholesale, from…the cover of a women’s fashion magazine. It’s called “W.” I think Kate Moss, then my ideal woman, was on the cover. Anyway, I saw the phrase and it conjured up something. Maybe it was yearning. I’m not sure.

The music that’s emerged under the name thus far doesn’t really fit into a genre. A lot of it is like the song above – acoustic, poorly recorded, and hastily written. But my expectation and hope is that the songs that come out the other side when the album is done will use electronics to express that ineffable space in my head where memories and longing combine.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Paris Hotel Wars currently has two official members: myself and Allan Lewis (remember him from Das Piumas?). But there’s plenty of room. If anyone else wants to jump in with anything – lyrics, a bit of music, a melody – we’d love to have you.

Broke

Broke is a hip hop trio made up of Half-Loonie (aka Noel Calalang), Hidden/Filthy Rich (aka Rich Patmore), and Expensive (aka me, Malcolm Gilderdale). We’ve been making music together for about two years. In that time we’ve spent many an hour in Rich’s basement, hunched over notebooks or looseleaf, composing odes to murder, love, girls, the frustrations of work, our childhoods, and drinking.

We’ve developed a definite M.O. in that time – usually I’ll create a bunch of beats at my place, bring them all with me to Rich’s, and the three of us will listen to them until we decide which one takes our fancy. Then we’ll pick a subject to riff on, eat way too much food, get drunk (well, Rich and I at least – Noel doesn’t drink, so he’s used to seeing his friends at their most foolish), and write lyrics and record ourselves.

Needless to say, our sessions tend to last hours and hours. It’s always a great time, and I’d like to think that comes out in the music. The three of us love hip hop, and making it is like playtime for adults.

And it really is playtime. Standing in front of two other people, neither of whom can hear the beat in your headphones, and one of whom is sober, while you attempt to stay in time and spit out the unnecessarily complicated words you just wrote should be a nerve-wracking experience. But that’s one of the things I love most about Broke: we support each other, and by the end of the night we always have a track that we’re in love with.

Now comes the interesting part: actually asking other people to listen to it. We hope you enjoy the product of many hours’ work and play. Over the course of this year, I’m going to put together what we’ve already done, and maybe rework some of it a little, as well as hopefully recording one or two new songs, to create Broke’s debut album. We hope you’ll like it.

Saga City

Of these five projects, Saga City is the only one that is completely solo. I have some unformed plans to get guests on the Expensive album, Das Piumas and Broke are actual groups, and I want Paris Hotel Wars to be something of a collective effort. But Saga City is really just me and what I can create alone.

But I don’t want it to be insular music. As with all the music I’m working on for FiveFourEleven, I want it to be as good as it can be, and for me that means making something that people who aren’t me or my immediate family and friends might choose to listen to on its own merit. Saga City may be termed Sad Bastard Music, genre-wise, but I’m hoping it will come out a bit more Radiohead, and a bit less petulant teenager with a blue guitar.

Saga City, the name, comes from a peculiar moment on a bus. I was travelling back to my parent’s place in Stouffville from downtown Toronto, and saw a utility vehicle with the words “Mega City” written on the side in huge letters. For some reason it struck me, and the idea that there might be a band name in it lodged in my head. And then, through an obscure mental process, Saga took over from Mega.

Two things to note: when you blur Saga City into one word, that word is sagacity, which is translated as “sound practical judgment,” or even “knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress.” How ironic that I would name my band after something I simply do not possess. And second, Saga City turns out to be a district in Japan. Here’s a cool overhead shot of it. I was not consciously aware of either of these details when I thought up the name.

In terms of the sound and aims of Saga City, I suppose I want to make personal music, and to indulge my love of Radiohead, poetry (the sample track’s lyrics are by Philip Larkin), and the mysteries of being alive while knowing we’re not permanent. The music is sometimes upbeat, sometimes very quiet; there are droning parts and whispers, pianos and electronic drums, mourning and celebration. It’s me trying to say things I don’t have direct words for. I hope you like it.